While at University I went to The Races for the first time, going with a friend to York Racecourse one weekend in the Summer. After queuing for rather a long time for a Pimms and lemonade (which was, given the price, a little light on the fruit – and the Pimms – if you ask me), I wandered around quite happily, a little lost, a little bemused, but generally in good spirits. As the first race approached, he told me I wasn’t allowed to be at the races without placing at least one bet. The week before I’d watched Finding Nemo with my flatmates in halls. I have zero knowledge or experience with or around horses, let alone horse racing, and so when I spotted that there was a horse in the first race called Nemo Spirit, I decided to back that one. A shiny two-pound coin was handed over in exchange for a slip of paper, and, first bet placed, we wandered off to have a look around.
In order to make it blindingly obviously to all that I was new to the racing scene, I made sure to clutch my camera and stare around in wonderment. Having spotted a large sign on the opposite side of the track proclaiming ‘York Racecourse’, I dragged my friend over to take some pictures. As my finger touched the shutter button, a horse (a very pretty one, all white with the jockey dressed in sky blue) walked up between us and the sign, and as a result I have a rather lovely photograph of my friend standing next to the pretty horse and jockey. It turned out that the horse in the photograph was in fact Nemo Spirit, which as far as I was concerned was now, thanks to my £2 bet, my horse, and so I was extremely excited by this (not to mention that my horse was so pretty and well coordinated with his jockey). The cherry landed on the top when Nemo Spirit crossed the finish line first, wining the race for me. The odds had been 9/1, and I very proudly scuttled off to collect my winnings. Soon after, my friend pointed out that I was in a better position to bet now than I had been when I placed my first bet, as I couldn’t possibly lose anything over all if I only bet my winnings, and he encouraged me to bet again. I pretty much let him choose the horses – big mistake, as we lost the lot. But still, thanks to Nemo Spirit and beginner’s luck, I very much enjoyed my first trip to the races.
My biggest win to date wasn’t actually mine, and brought with it a moment of enlightenment. An anonymous someone quietly mentioned to me not too long ago that a particular horse running in a particular race at a particular racecourse that day might be worth popping a few quid on. Given that I had absolutely no idea how to place a bet, short of walking to the racecourse, paying entry and placing it in person, I elected to pass the snippet of information onto a friend instead. Possibly bad form etiquette-wise – I honestly wouldn’t know – but as I wouldn’t be placing a bet on said horse myself, I didn’t see that it would matter if someone else did instead. And sure enough, a £10 each way bet brought back a return of around £150. Lesson One: some races simply must be fixed. Either that or beginner’s luck can extend over a period of years, and can be carried with passed-on information.
Last month saw Cheltenham, and more importantly, the Gold Cup on Friday and my second personal gambling experience, if only in the form of a sweepstake in the office. The no-doubt naive questions to my somewhat horsier colleagues, the excitement of everyone crowding round the iPad in the office for the duration of the race, the frustration and effort of trying to deduce as they galloped what colour my horse was or which outfit the jockey was wearing, and being laughed at for distinctively non-horsey terminology throughout the day; it was all well worth my £1 entry into the sweepstake – even more so given the excitement when my horse, Midnight Chase, actually took the lead for a not insignificant portion of the race (despite the fact he came in 6th or 7th at the end).
And most recently, last week we had the Grand National. I decided to try and place a bet or two – without walking to Merseyside you’ll be glad to hear. I elected to bet online, and was a bit of a sheep when it came to website choice; I simply picked the one I know a friend of mine uses. Creating an online account was surprisingly easy, and I deposited a little money into my virtual piggy bank. Then it was time to look at the horses, and I’ll admit my reasons for selecting them were perhaps not the most professional. In fact, when I explained my logic to my mother she described me as a ‘sentimental old gambler’.
First, I opted for Seabass because the feminist in me would quite like to see a woman win the Grand National (and fair play to Katie Walsh; she came in third, the highest placing woman in any Grand National to date). Second, I chose Ballabrigs, because it would have been nice to see McCain have a success in his first Grand National since his father, Ginger McCain of Red Rum fame, passed away. Sadly it wasn’t to be, but my third choice was luckier. I read somewhere online about a horse that was a good jumper, but at 11 years was simply too old to be worth watching. As practical as it may be, I didn’t like the idea of an old horse being written off simply because of its age. The fences/hedges described by my friends (‘jumps’ to mimic those found out on the hunt apparently) suggested to me that being a good jumper couldn’t be a bad thing, and so, to show good willing, sympathy and support, I thought I’d place my last bet on him. It turns out that being a ‘sentimental gambler’ isn’t a bad thing – at 11 years old, on the last day of his working life, Neptune Collanges won the 165th Grand National in a photo finish. And a £2 bet at 33/1 means that my good faith covered the cost of my shooting The Classic at Royal Berks last Monday. Maybe you can’t teach old dog new tricks, but an old horse can win the Grand National – Neptune Collanges is living proof. Now just time to see exactly how long my beginner’s luck will last.